MANDAN, N.D. (KXNET)— Young children can be funny and a handful. They need time to run and play, they also have to learn how to learn. Janet Bassingthwaite thought the pages in her book would be all about teaching high schoolers.

“As I was going through my educational path, I started to work at a daycare center and that just solidified it. You can see the learning in their eyes and you can see it in their faces. It’s right there and it’s automatic. Their body language was the appeal for me,” Bassingthwaite said.

With her years of experience, Bassingthwaite has learned about the body language and thought process of a child. It’s one of the reasons she’s the early learning coordinator for Mandan Public Schools. She also runs the SPARK program which stands for Simple Play-Based Activities and Resources for Kids.

“Families today, there’s so many material pieces being geared toward them, so many devices and gadgets and gears being promoted as learning. I think that we need to continue to have a conversation with families about the importance of just play and play that develops skills and body skills,” Bassingthwaite explained.

That play and body skill development, along with story-time, happens twice a month at the Morton Mandan Public Library. But not everyone wants to or knows how to play well with others.
However, with all of her training, smile and gentle demeanor, Bassingthwaite’s prepared to handle just about anything, including having to deal with and listen to an often-repeated two-letter word. “A ‘no’ isn’t defiance. A ‘no’ is their way of saying I don’t know how to do it, I don’t want to do it that way, I want to try something different. My body wants to do this instead,” Bassingthwaite said.

“Janet’s awesome. I have only positive things to say about her. She’s patient with the kids,” Miranda Streifel said. Streifel and her youngest son Lincoln comes to the SPARK program as much as possible. And while part of the program involves playing with other children, Streifel knows Lincoln will get much more out of it. “I know he’s going to get the literacy piece with the story. I know he’s going to get fine motor, gross motor, learn all the things that he should be learning at his age. So, it’s really the whole package,” Streifel said.

Though she makes it look easy, Bassingthwaite said, in this line of work, you need to be open to finding joy. “It’s the joy in discovery and the joy in wonderment. Those are the pieces that someone getting into this work has a desire and a want to impact,” Bassingthwaite said.